Everyone has a picture in their head of the typical firefighter.
The picture that shows up in most people’s head when they think of a firefighter is a male, about 30 years old, physically fit, a mustache, and sometimes a cigar in the mouth.
That picture doesn’t match most people in the fire service, especially with females now common in the fire station. There are some skills and personality traits that help firefighters fit in at the firehouse.
Growing up, it was pretty typical to find boys grabbing the old bikes from the garbage and tinkering around until they were good enough to ride or they were in so many pieces they were definitely garbage in a couple hours. If there were no bikes maybe we would grab an old radio or television and take it apart. We learned how things worked and how to take them apart.
Today kids play video games and buy new bikes.
Firefighters need to know how things work, how they come apart, and most of all, have the common sense to figure things out without someone telling them how to do every little step. I’d take the guy that took things apart over the video game player. I would call this mechanical common sense.
Keeping with the mechanical skills, we need firefighters that know building construction, electrical systems, and how to get up on a roof and get some work done.
Firefighters used to come from the trades. You could usually build an entire house with one crew in the fire station. A lot of firefighters these days don’t have that kind of experience so if you have the chance to hire someone from the trades, don’t immediately pass them up for someone with a couple fire certificates.
Personality traits aren’t easy to figure out until you work and live with them for a while. There isn’t a checklist for personality traits on the application. One thing that will get you in trouble in a hurry in the fire service is being thin skinned, or sensitive as some people call it. Firefighters have a special sense of figuring out what gets under other firefighters skin. It might be something simple like the car or truck they drive, a mini-van for instance is not considered a very manly vehicle.
A remark about driving a mini-van might get a shoulder shrug from one guy, but from another it might get a more severe reaction. The shoulder shrug guy won’t hear about the mini-van again, but the guy that is bothered by it will hear it every day. You need to be a little thick skinned, or at least smart enough not to let someone figure out your triggers.
A good firefighter is confident in his skills and not afraid to give advice or pass on some things they have learned. I guess that takes a combination of skills, accountability for your skills, and a little mentoring.
Mentors need to have enthusiasm in their job, and a positive attitude. There is a lot to learn in the fire service that doesn’t come from a classroom or book. That’s where we need firefighters to share their personal experience and knowledge.
I hope you are lucky enough to get some new guys with some of these skills or personality traits. If you don’t get that lucky maybe you could share some of your knowledge with them. More importantly, maybe you can give them some advice to keep them from giving up the things that get under their skin.
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